Sep 5th 2010

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Amazon Kindle

Ok I am not going to go on too much about the device itself, this is the only e-book reader I have played with so comparisons are out...the screen looks better (better contrast) than the ones on the Sony readers in my local bookshop and the navigation and page turning seems faster.

The device is nice to hold (although different rather than better to holding a book) very slim, very light and I have read halfway though my first title (girl with the dragon tattoo) played with the browser and downloaded several more books via whispernet and the battery meter has hardly moved.

Ok Hardware review over, what about the whole concept ?

Where to start, I was excited when the original kindle was first released because the whole possibility of a mobile network connected e-book reader has always intrigued me. Unfortunately UK availability, dodgy hardware, high book prices and Amazon miss-management of the Kindle customers meant for me at least it was a no-go. But I loved the concept...The thought of having periodicals and newspapers delivered to my device (more on this later) excites me. The fact that anywhere in the world (where there is mobile signal) I can go to the Amazon store have have a new title on my device within minutes. The way I can have a much needed technical manual or document emailed to my device when I am working at a customers site. All these things I think make the Kindle worthy of consideration to even the die hard "Yes but it isn't as nice as a real book is it" clan.

Yes there is a tactile quality about books the Kindle lacks, yes you don't get to have nice bookshelves crammed with exciting titles around your house to make you look good to your peers. No the cute girl sitting opposite you on the Tube won't see that you are reading something edgy yet intelligent that will instantly attract her to you. But the truth is that given my experience with my first Kindle title. The quality of the e-ink screen means that if the book is worth reading you won't care or even notice the lack of the tactile quality after the first chapter and if the other things are still important to you then you are buying books for the wrong reasons.

Anyway Kindle V3 fixed the problems I had with getting an earlier version and Kindle editions of books are now generally much cheaper than the cover price of their physical counterparts.

That said there are still valid counterarguments. You can't lend a book (something the Nook solves) or give it away or sell it on when you are finished with it.

You can't spend a Saturday afternoon scouring dusty bookshops for a rare first edition of something special. There is also a valid question regarding the retention of rare or deleted titles if all copies sold are digital and in what is essentially a closed and specific to Amazon format.

These things will have to be weighed up against the convenience of having your whole library in a format you could carry anywhere, with on demand delivery when you need it, search facilities, note taking and hi-lighting abilities on a device that will never lose your place when you drift asleep with the bookmark on the pillow and where even if you lose the device you haven't lost the book (or even your place in it). Personally I am treating it a bit like how I treat buying mp3's vs a physical CD. If the album is truly special to me then nothing beats having it in a format that if looked after will never be taken from me. For most material however I am willing to sacrifice that for some convenience and deal with the loss if it happens. There are still books I will buy as physical versions just as there is still music I will buy on CD. But in reality the more convenient format has expanded what and where I absorb the content.

There is something clever about the Kindle. As soon as you have it you notice that Amazon have been clever enough to make a device that is actually intentionally plain. It's not a shiny bling gadget like the i-Pad, it disappears as soon as the content grabs you. It seems it is intentionally quite boring and almost drab from a pure gadget perspective, nothing stands out to remind you of the device itself...and I for one really like that.

It comes out of the box truly ready to go, except in my case with an almost completely depleted battery. Pre-registered to the Amazon account you ordered it from (an important note if buying it as a gift as you will have to de-register it, although I suspect/hope this isn't done if you order it gift wrapped).

Take note Apple it doesn't require you hook it up to a computer and perform a quite hefty download of iTunes before you can even use it.

I will gloss over some of the secondary features as to me they are truly that and only likely to be used in an emergency. The (experimental) web browser works well enough that you could use it for a quick lookup on wikipedia or in a pinch where nothing else is available. At the moment browsing via the whispernet 3G access is free but there is no promise it will stay that way.

There are two offline dictionaries where you can highlight a word in a book and they give you the definition. The MP3 playback lacks any real navigation controls but the built in speakers are better than I expected. The Text to speech facility sounds quite robotic. The selection of periodicals is tiny and disappointing, hopefully this will improve. The selection of available UK newspapers is positively sparse and reviews suggest they are both overpriced and missing content.

I had a bit of initial trouble with the layout of the page flip buttons, my brain expected the large left button to be a page back button and not mirror the two on the right side...I've adjusted but a configuration option would be nice so I didn't have to.

The e-ink technology does still lag and have visible blank and redraw operations with some intermittent image persistence on a partial redraw (done for things like text entry boxes, cursors and status icons) For the primary function of reading books this won't matter but it becomes apparent when using menus or the web browser. I don't mind too much because the sheer readability of the e-ink display over a traditional backlit LCD is worth the sacrifices for the intended purpose.

Finally the keyboard could be improved with a dedicated row for number entry, better layout and better keys, but then for the primary function of the machine you won't be using it often.

All small criticisms, some of which I think may get fixed and if not I can live with them all.

The future of this device fills me with almost as much excitement as when it was first announced. CPC/Farnell and RS send me bulky dead tree catalogues which are out of date as soon as I receive them and never where I need them. I am waiting for these suppliers to figure out that I would subscribe to a Kindle version of their catalogues rather than use their terrible websites. Every technical manual and datasheet I own in PDF form on something I can use to search them and take anywhere with little concern over battery life or power availability.

But most importantly all the books I can now find time to read because they are so much more accessible and convenient for me to carry anywhere.

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